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Dental, nursing coalition opposes military officer downgrade

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Washington—Professional dental and nursing organizations told the Senate Armed Services Committee May 22 they oppose a Department of Defense budget measure that would reduce the rank of certain chief dental and nurse officers.

“We believe that the unintended consequences of this provision will impact quality of care and the military’s ability to retain these critical health professions,” said the coalition letter signed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, American Dental Association, American Dental Education Association, American Nurses Association and American Organization of Nurse Executives.

“While we recognize that the current fiscal climate necessitates reductions in spending across all federal departments, the Department of Defense’s proposal to reduce the rank of these chief nurse officers and chief dental officers would yield minimal savings while adversely affecting the critical roles of these longstanding positions.”

Section 502 of the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, S. 2467, would reduce the rank of the chief dental officers for the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force from a two-star major general to a one-star brigadier general.

“While this rank reduction is presented as a cost saving measure in the Department of Defense budget, the miniscule impact on the defense budget will be far outweighed by the negative impact on the dental readiness and on the morale of dental officers as well as the ability to recruit and retain those officers,” the American Dental Association said in a separate e-communication with ADA members.

“There is one other, perhaps unintended, consequence,” the ADA said. The rank of the chief dental officer of the U.S. Public Health Service is tied to the rank of the chief dental officer for the Army. “Congress should be enhancing the importance of oral health as part of overall health,” the ADA said. “Reducing the rank of the chief dental officers for the Army, Air Force and Public Health Service is the wrong message.” The legislation does not affect the Navy Dental Corps.

The ADA was successful in removing the same provision from the House version of the defense authorization. The five-organization coalition letter urges the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee to strip the provision from the Senate bill as well.